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Afghanistan heads towards becoming global terrorist hub

President Joe Biden, Taliban, Al Qaeda, Afghan, Afghanistan, Doha agreement, US, NATO, United Nations, Egyptian Al Qaeda

Counterterrorism

Afghanistan heads towards becoming global terrorist hub

President Joe Biden and his administration are to be held responsible for increase in terrorist activities throughout the world, because of their hurried withdrawing from Afghanistan before the 20th anniversary of 9/11 terrorist attacks. According to counterterrorism experts, Biden lacked appreciation of the terrorist threats still emanating from the country and an awareness that he would now give the terrorists two reasons for celebrating. Despite Biden’s pledge to maintain an “over the horizon” counterterrorism capability, it is still unclear what this entails, what will be the guiding principles for employing it, and how this option would be any safer or more cost-effective than keeping a minimal counterterrorism presence within Afghanistan.

It is unclear if the United States will continue to provide air cover for the Afghan security forces and, if so, under what circumstances. Continued U.S. air support for the Afghans, even if performed from bases outside the country, would help them hold on to provincial capitals and resist Taliban military advances in other key terrain. But the unfortunate fact is, Biden would no more provide air cover to the Afghan security forces. Although Biden is willing for stunts from their Afghanistan policy to policy in the Middle East, his team certain is making series of miscalculations about Taliban in Afghanistan, Hamas in Gaza and of course the terrorist agendas of Iranian regime. According to analysts, Biden’s withdrawal from Afghanistan will result in Taliban return to power and the reestablishment of terrorist sanctuaries in the country.

We need to remember, seventeen months after the signing of the Doha agreement, Taliban still remain closely aligned with Al Qaeda and its jihadist ambition and there is no indications that Taliban would treat the global terrorist group any differently than they did before the 9/11 attacks. Unfortunate fact is, Taliban or majority of Afghans do not see Al Qaeda as an evil entity. Instead they see Al Qaeda as a force fighting “enemies of Islam” and “enemies of Allah”.

In a report released in early June, the United Nations said, large numbers of Al Qaeda jihadists and other terrorist entities aligned with the Taliban are located in various parts of Afghanistan and have celebrated the departure of US and NATO forces from the country as a victory for global radicalism.

While the Doha Agreement states that the Taliban will instruct its members not to cooperate with groups that pose a threat to the United States and its allies, the United Nations Coordinator for the Islamic State, Al Qaeda and Taliban Monitoring Team, Edmund Fitton-Brown, said in October 2020 that the Taliban promised Al Qaeda, shortly before the Doha Agreement was signed, that the two groups would, in fact, remain allies. Also, in October 2020, Afghan forces killed a top Egyptian Al Qaeda leader in a Taliban-controlled area of Ghazni province, further demonstrating that the Taliban and Al Qaeda continue to cooperate.

On Taliban issue, former US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was also wrong. In March 2020, Pompeo wrongly claimed that the Taliban has made a “break” with Al Qaeda. Meaning, US intelligence was feeding the policymakers with false or wrong intel, which also is the main reason behind US withdrawal from Afghanistan. It should be mentioned here that, US troops were sent to Afghanistan with the mission of eradicating Al Qaeda. But Doha agreement did not have any pre-condition for Taliban to expel Al Qaeda and publicly break ties with it.

Commenting on the Doha deal, analysts say, if the weak language that was agreed to in the Doha document was the best the United States could extract from the Taliban, it would have been better to leave the so-called “peace deal” on the table. When the Biden administration came to power earlier this year, it had the opportunity to reevaluate the Doha agreement and forge its own Afghanistan strategy. Instead, the Biden team decided to stick with the flawed deal and pursued a misguided effort to speed up intra-Afghan peace talks by scrapping the current Afghan administration in favor of an interim government.

Meanwhile, while talks between the Taliban and the Afghan-led negotiating team restarted in Doha, there are no signs they will make progress. The Taliban’s campaign of targeted assassinations of human rights workers, judges, and journalists and its current military offensive throughout the country exposes the reality that the Doha document is a withdrawal—not a peace— agreement. President Ashraf Ghani recently admitted that ceding to American demands for his government to release 5,000 hardened Taliban prisoners from jail last year was a “big mistake,” and that the “Taliban have no intention and willingness for peace”.

The Taliban’s unwillingness to compromise in peace talks is one indicator that their views toward politics, governance, women, and minorities have likely not evolved significantly since they ruled the country in the late 1990s.

A recently declassified National Intelligence Council Memo assesses that the Taliban “remain broadly consistent in its restrictive approach to women’s rights and would roll back much of the past two decades’ progress if the group regained national power”.

According to media reports, while in the Taliban-controlled Afghan areas, women are not only banned from working outside the home and girls are only permitted to attend school up to the primary level, following US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Taliban have started raiding homes for widows and girls with the nefarious agenda of using them as sex slaves.

Counterterrorism experts say, the Taliban’s ascendance in Afghanistan, especially if they are able to establish control in most or all parts of the country, would almost certainly inspire Islamist extremists across the globe. As both the Taliban and al-Qaeda push a narrative of having defeated the United States and over 40 other NATO countries, extremists of all stripes are likely to re-converge on Afghanistan much like they did in the 1990s.

The Doha agreement also has many loopholes, which will grant opportunity to Taliban in continuing and even in increasing their pro-jihadist and pro-Caliphate notoriety. For example, the Doha agreement says the Taliban will deal with those “seeking asylum or residence in Afghanistan according to international migration law…so that such persons do not pose a threat to the security of the United States and its allies.” However, the next clause presents a major loophole, saying the Taliban will not provide official documentation to those seeking to enter the country who pose a threat to the United States. In other words, the Taliban can simply turn a blind eye to the arrival of foreign terrorist fighters into Afghanistan, and still be within the letter of the Doha agreement. This will enable the terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda, Islamic State, Hamas, Hezbollah, Houthis etcetera in enjoying freedom of operation and ability to build network and capabilities by using Afghan soil.

Afghanistan, Doha deal and Pakistan’s terrorist agenda

Pakistan maintains significant influence with the Taliban leadership and is unwilling to use leverage to moderate Taliban behavior or sever the Taliban’s links to terrorism. Instead, Pakistan and its spy agency Inter Service Intelligence (ISI) have supported the Taliban in the form of supplying weapons, training, and battlefield advice, and facilitating Taliban fighters’ cross-border movements, despite strong US pressure and the risk of being designated a state sponsor of terrorism. Pakistani establishment is seeing the US withdrawal from Afghanistan as an opportunity of enhancing its collaboration with Taliban and other jihadist outfits with the notorious agenda of bringing the country under Pakistan’s control. Under the circumstance, it would be naïve for the Biden administration to believe Pakistan would alter its policies toward the Taliban now that they are ascendant in Afghanistan. Until Pakistan gives up its long-held belief that the most effective way to limit Indian influence in Afghanistan is through support to the Taliban, Pakistani officials will be loath to pressure the Taliban on issues of concern to the United States.

United States should change its policy towards Pakistan and instead of continuing to tolerate Pakistan’s double game on Afghanistan, the US administration should focus on developing counterterrorism partnerships with Central Asian states, namely Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Tajikistan and South Asian nations such as Bangladesh and India. United States should also further extend its cooperation in the field of counterterrorism in the Middle East particularly by developing counterterrorism partnerships with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Israel.

It may be mentioned here that, China and Russia share concerns about the likelihood of a rising terrorist threat emanating from Afghanistan as the Taliban gains ground, but none of them on their own has sufficient leverage or political will to significantly influence the situation. Each country will pursue tactical steps to guard its own counterterrorism interests. It is unlikely, however, that these countries will be able to forge a coherent strategy for bringing peace to the country.

Meanwhile, being encouraged by US withdrawal from Afghanistan, Iran may now start extending patronization and funding to over two million Afghan refugees and encourage them joining Shi’ite terrorist blueprint, which would seriously threaten Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Bahrain and Israel. Iran’s success in turning two million Afghan refugees into human bombs or lone wolves would also ultimately pose security threats to Russia and China as these Afghans may form alliance with jihadist and terrorist groups in those countries.

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An internationally acclaimed multi-award-winning anti-militancy journalist, research-scholar, counter-terrorism specialist, and editor of Blitz. Follow his on Twitter Salah_Shoaib

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